How to Lead When You’re Not the Leader
The Challenge of Leading Up
You’re young, you have just been hired into a company with established and reputable employees that have long track-records of success (or long track-records of key relationships that have helped keep them in the positions they are in). Or, maybe you’re in the midst of a career transition. You have been in the workforce for about 10 years now and are transitioning to a new phase, new industry, and new company. You may be an entry-level employee, or simply in a role where you are not overseeing a group of people. This can be an extremely difficult position to be in, especially if you have any iota of ambition, vision, and drive. You have ideas, you have fresh energy to breathe some “new life into the company.” How do you go about making organizational adjustments, policy and procedure suggestions without sounding entitled and overstepping your metaphorical reach? It’s a tough place to waver while you’re trying to establish credibility yourself. The first place to start is by recognizing your ambition and drive are not liabilities to your company, but assets. However, there is a way to position yourself as the guide to your company and staffs growth while not playing the hero. That’s the important thing to note. As soon as you position yourself as a hero swooping in saving the damsel in distress, you will immediately turn off your supervisors and will label yourself as an entitled, discontent, know-it-all. Definitely not the label you want. So what can you do? How do you lead when you’re not the leader?
Recognizing that just because “Director” is not in your title does not mean you can’t lead, or aren’t a “leader.” Contrary to what people will say, everyone is born with some ability to lead. It’s hardwired into our brain to survive. The important piece to consider is to not play your hand too quickly, and again, always paint yourself in the picture of support and guide, not the hero. One of the best ways to help emphasize your worth, other than doing your immediate responsibilities well, is to simply lighten the load of your leader. Once you have completed your tasks, or have made some serious headway and looking for a little extra work, approach your leader and humbly ask if there is anything you can to that will help support them to maximize their effectiveness. In short, how can you support them that will help them be most successful? Also, invest in the chemistry of the relationship. These two points are crucial, but there is an important caveat (THIS IS NOT AN ENDORSEMENT OF “SUCKING UP.” NO ONE LIKES A SUCK-UP). Spending time with your leader, or anyone, is an immediate way to establish trust and credibility. Which are two important factors for your foundation to grow. A very, very important point to understand, is to be a rockstar in your current role. Whatever your duties entail, absolutely and passionately own it. There is no job that is beneath you, and you are always ready to tackle the next task that will help keep the operation moving smoothly. A philosophy I have with RealSource, especially as I consider hiring of new people, is could this person lead my department in 2 years? That seems like a steep reach, and maybe intimidating to you if you are clinging to your position. What’s the application to you? If you can own your “entry-level” role, and excel, you are showing you can handle the small details, and you know how the department operates. When you pair that with the points above, you are going to position yourself vey quickly as someone that can be trusted with more responsibility and entrusted in a new role.
So, how do you lead when you’re not the leader? Be humble, be the guide, and serve at the pleasure of your company. Lastly, pair your ambition with patience, and before you know it, you will find yourself growing with a growing company.